April 3, 2019

Dear friends,
I am so hungry for Chinese food. And I am so sick of anemic-tasting stir frys a 10-year-old could make with a couple of cans of La Choy and a wok. I need to find a good Chinese restaurant. Chin’s in Highland Square and House of Hunan in Fairlawn are the only places I have found that satisfy, depending on where you land on their menus.

Tip: If you see “Bourbon Chicken” on a Chinese menu, it could be a clue the stir frys come frozen from a warehouse in Timbuktu. Bourbon chicken is a staple of Chinese buffet restaurants that buy their stir frys wholesale. Bourbon is American, folks, not Chinese.

In an effort to winkle out the decent homemade dishes on a multi-page Chinese restaurant menu, I ask the waitress which dish is the cook’s specialty. I don’t know why I do this because the answer invariably is “everything is good” or a finger pointed to a list headlined “Chef’s Specialties” that cover every region of China and are the most expensive items on the menu.

Is there a real chef in the kitchen at any of these restaurants? Maybe he or she makes something good for their families and friends, while saving the trite moo goo gai pans for their American customers.

In my reporter years, I once tried to find out if this was true. I interviewed Chinese restaurant chefs all over the area to determine their provinces of origin and get recipes for dishes they make at home. Only a couple (at Chin’s and House of Hunan, in fact) were chefs before they emigrated. The rest decided to open a restaurant and wing it after they got here.

This reminds me of the guy who phoned me at the newspaper once for advice. He was thinking of opening a Mexican restaurant and wondered whether I thought it was a good idea. “Do you know a lot about Mexican food?” I asked. “No,” he said. “I just thought it might be popular.”

Anyway, if I want to eat Chinese I must travel from Copley to Highland Square or dress up (i.e, change out of pajamas or a track suit) and go to House of Hunan or drive to Cleveland. A fourth alternative is to make some Chinese food myself, which I did last week after I tossed out a pitiful version of chicken in black bean sauce from a Norton Chinese restaurant.

“How hard can it be to make this?” I wondered. Not hard, it turns out. The most difficult part is finding the fermented black beans. Unless you have an unruly pantry like mine, it will require a trip to an Asian store.

In Irene Kuo’s excellent book, “The Key to Chinese Cooking,” the recipe for the sauce is ridiculously simple: soy sauce, sherry, sugar and water. The black beans are stir fried with the chicken, ginger, garlic and vegetables. The sauce is thickened with a cornstarch slurry and finished with a swirl of sesame oil. The result is a tawny, glazed stir fry with tons of flavor.

Kuo starts with a whole chicken that she hacks, bones and all, into 1-inch pieces. I used bone-in thighs instead but next time will opt for boneless because we didn’t like eating around all the slivers of bone. Your choice.

CHICKEN IN BLACK BEAN SAUCE

1 frying chicken, about 2/12 lbs., or 8 bone-in or boneless thighs
1 large onion cut into 1-inch squares
2 medium bell peppers, cut into 1-inch squares
2 quarter-size slices peeled ginger, minced
2 tbsp. fermented black beans, rinsed and coarsely chopped
2 large cloves garlic, chopped

Seasonings:
2 tbsp dark soy sauce
2 tbsp. dry sherry
1 tsp. sugar
1 cup water

Also:
1 1/2 tbsp. cornstarch dissolved in 3 tbsp. water (I ultimately used double the amount)
4 tbsp. vegetable oil
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. sesame oil

Cut the chicken or bone-in thighs through the bones into 1-inch pieces. Or cut the boneless thighs into similar-size pieces. Place in a bowl and line up near the stove with the onions, peppers, ginger, black beans and garlic, all in separate piles. Mix the seasonings. Dissolve the cornstarch in a small bowl; have the sesame oil nearby. All this may be done hours ahead of time. Cover and refrigerate the chicken and vegetables, then bring to room temperature before stir frying.

Heat a large, heavy skillet over high heat until hot. Add 2 tablespoons of the oil, swirl and heat for 30 seconds. Scatter in the onions and peppers and stir fry vigorously with the salt until they are just beginning to lose their raw edge. Remove to a dish.

Add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil to the pan, heat a few seconds, and sear the ginger, black beans and garlic for a few seconds, stirring all the time. Add the chicken and toss and stir until all the pieces are yellow-whitish. Add the seasonings mixture, stir and when it bubbles, turn heat to medium, cover and let the chicken steam-cook vigorously for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Uncover, turn the heat to high, add the onions and bell pepper and stir in sweeping, tossing motions for 1 minute. Give the cornstarch mixture a big stir and pour into the pan, stirring until the chicken and vegetables are smoothly glazed. If the sauce is too thin, quickly make and add more cornstarch slurry. Add the sesame oil, give the contents a few sweeping folds and pour into a hot serving dish. Makes 4 servings.

From “The Key to Chinese Cooking” by Irene Kuo.

Note from Jane: If you don’t cook the stir fry at a high enough heat, which can be a problem with home stoves and fear of spatters, the chicken will release so much moisture that the sauce will require at least double the thickening.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
A detox green smoothie; chicken in black bean sauce, steamed rice; hamburgers; roast chicken with ginger-garlic sauce; DiGiorno’s frozen pizza.

What I ate in /from restaurants:
Half a meatball sub from Subway; bacon-wrapped meat loaf, roasted carrots, mashed potatoes and a glass of Malbec wine at Wolf Creek Tavern in Norton; a hot Italian sub at Primo’s Deli.

THE MAILBAG
From Sandy D.:
In response to your question about foods we once disliked….I will be 60 years old in June. About three months ago I started eating cottage cheese for the first time in my life. I could never stand the texture before, I guess. Now I eat it almost daily, especially since I’ve discovered Hood’s brand.

Next up I will be attempting to make my own as I do ricotta — can’t beat homemade!

From Diana H.:
When I was pregnant with my first child we had feta cheese in a salad at a Greek festival and it was AWFUL! So I never ate it for years. One day I had a Greek salad and just knew I did not like feta cheese but took a bite anyway. Then I realized how much I LOVED it! Probably pregnancy gave me funky tastebuds for feta. It tastes so good and I enjoy it every time I have a Greek salad.

Dear Sandy and Diana:
How interesting that you both once disliked a particular cheese. I can’t think of a cheese I dislike, although there’s probably one somewhere that I’d turn up my nose at. I eat cottage cheese several times a week because it’s a good source of lean protein and I like it. Feta may be my favorite everyday cheese. It is relatively low in fat and has a mild but distinct salty flavor. I use it in tacos, all kinds of salads, omelets and even on pizza.

Very few foods are on my hate list. Among them are natto — slimy Japanese fermented soybeans — and tripe, which I’ve tried to like but whose texture puts me off.

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March 27, 2019

Dear friends,
I’m not trying to pick a fight with the food police of Bologna, Italy. It’s just that both Marcella Hazan and my husband disagree with them.

In 1982, a food society in Bologna published a recipe its members, after much study, declared was the last word on ragu alla Bolognese — meat sauce for pasta, which is thought to have originated in the city (hence, “spaghetti Bolognese” ).

I have made Bolognese sauce but not the official one until last week. It contained just two tablespoons of tomato paste and no tomatoes. When the sauce was an hour into its two-hour simmer, I caved and added a cup of crushed tomatoes. I knew Tony wouldn’t like a spaghetti sauce with no tomatoes.

Before I added the tomatoes, the sauce tasted good but not as good as Hazan’s, which I use for lasagna with homemade noodles (it’s like eating heaven). Even Hazan, a cookbook author and the premier northern Italian food expert, adds tomatoes to Bolognese sauce. The finished sauce tastes more of meat and cream, but the tomato notes are there.

Bolognese sauce, both the official and unofficial versions, is almost all meat, no liquid. The wine, seasonings, milk and cream are absorbed into the ground meat, giving it an unctuousness and depth of flavor regular spaghetti meat sauces lack.

A meaty, almost sauceless sauce is just what I needed for baked spaghetti squash alla Bolognese. The stringy squash is halved and filled with meat sauce, then topped with Parmesan cheese and baked. As you eat, your fork rakes up the strands of squash and drags them through the sauce. It is a memorable way to eat both squash and sauce.

I have wanted to make this dish since Julie Maier-Miller of Claire’s Garden in Norton posted a photo of her creation on Facebook. The idea is hers. The recipe I’m sharing is my version. If you want Julie’s version, you should sign up for one of her cooking classes. Information follows.

I am sharing two recipes for the sauce: my modified sauce from the food fathers of Bologna, and Marcella Hazan’s sauce. Take your pick. I baked the sauce in single serving-size spaghetti squash I found at Aldi’s. The more typical, larger spaghetti squash would probably serve three or four.

The recipe makes enough to fill two or three squash. I filled two halves and Tony used the rest on angel hair pasta. The sauce freezes beautifully if you prefer to save the leftovers for more baked spaghetti squash.

This is the best way to eat spaghetti squash I’ve come across. Filling the cavity with sauce and baking it is a brilliant idea. Thanks, Julie.

BAKED SPAGHETTI SQUASH ALLA BOLOGNESE

3 small or 2 medium spaghetti squash (or just 1 small if you’re serving 2 people, 2 small for 4 people, etc.)
Olive oil or melted butter
1 recipe Bolognese sauce (see below)
1/2 to 1 cup or so shredded Parmesan cheese

Cut squash in half lengthwise. Scoop out and discard the seeds and their membranes. Working with two halves at a time, place cut-sides down on a microwave-safe plate and microwave on high power for 8 to 15 minutes, depending on the size of the squash. When done, the squash will be tender enough to pierce with a fork but the shell will still be firm. Set aside.

Make Bolognese sauce. Almost all of the liquid should evaporate, leaving just the creamy meat.

Place the squash halves, cut sides up, in shallow oven-proof bowls and place on a baking sheet. Or place the squash directly on a baking sheet. Brush the rims of the squash with oil or melted butter. Mound the sauce in the cavity of each squash half. Sprinkle each with 2 or 3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes, until the cheese has melted and the squash is completely tender. Serve in individual bowls or on dinner plates. Makes about 6 servings.

AUTHENTIC RAGU ALLA BOLOGNESE,
SLIGHTLY MODIFIED

Olive oil
5 oz. finely chopped pancetta (Italian non-smoked bacon)
2 1/2 ribs celery finely diced
1 large carrot, finely diced
1/2 large yellow onion, finely diced
1 lb. lean ground beef (I used venison; the Bolognese use ground skirt steak)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. tomato paste
2 cups whole milk
Salt, pepper
1 cup canned crushed tomatoes
2 tbsp. heavy cream
Pinch of fresh-ground nutmeg

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a heavy-bottomed medium pot, preferably terra cotta or ceramic-clad cast iron. The pot should be deep so the sauce doesn’t reduce too rapidly. Add pancetta and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the pancetta’s fat has rendered, about 10 minutes.

Add another 1 tablespoon olive oil and the celery, carrot and onion. Cook, stirring frequently, until soft and lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high. Add the ground meat and cook, stirring occasionally, until broken up and lightly browned and beginning to sizzle. Add the wine and cook until evaporated, about 4 minutes.

In a small bowl, stir together the tomato paste and 3 tablespoons water. Add to the pot and stir well to combine. Reduce the heat to low and simmer the sauce, stirring occasionally, and add the milk little by little until all the milk is added, about 1 hour. Season with salt and pepper. Add the crushed tomatoes and simmer 1 hour longer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is very thick. Stir in the cream and nutmeg.

Mound in the squash per above instructions or toss with freshly made tagliatelle — never dry pasta.

MARCELLA HAZAN’S
BOLOGNESE MEAT SAUCE

2 tbsp. chopped yellow onion
3 tbsp. olive oil
3 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. chopped celery
2 tbsp. chopped carrot
3/4 lb. lean ground beef, preferably chuck or meat from the neck
Salt
1 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup milk
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
2 cups canned Italian tomatoes, roughly chopped, with their juice

Use an earthenware pot if possible; if not, a heavy, enameled cast-iron casserole, the deepest one you have (to keep the ragu from reducing too quickly). Put in the chopped onion, with all the oil and butter, and sauté briefly over medium heat until just translucent. Add the celery and carrot and cook gently for 2 minutes.

Add the ground beef, crumbling it in the pot with a fork. Add 1 teaspoon salt, stir and cook only until the meat has lost its raw red color. Add the wine, turn the heat up to medium-high, and cook, stirring occasionally, until all the wine has evaporated.

Turn the heat down to medium, add the milk and the nutmeg, and cook until the milk has evaporated. Stir frequently.

When the milk has evaporated, add the tomatoes and stir well. When the tomatoes have started to bubble, turn the heat down until the sauce cooks at the laziest simmer, just an occasional bubble. Cook uncovered for a minimum of 3 1/2 to 4 hours, stirring occasionally. Taste and correct for salt.

Ragu can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 5 days, or frozen. Reheat until it simmers for about 15 minutes before using.

TIDBITS
Jullie-Maier Miller, whose Facebook post was the inspiration for my stuffed spaghetti squash recipe, will soon begin offering cooking classes in response to requests from her friends. Miller’s style of cooking is low-carb with a Paleo bent, but she is not a purist. She uses dairy products and whatever her nutrition research tells her will make a body feel good.

“It’s a healthier diet you can adapt to you,” Miller says. The small classes (BYO wine) will be held in her Barberton Air B&B.

Miller, a former banquet chef, is a florist at Claire’s Garden in Norton. She says that all day, while working at her shop, she thinks about what she is going to cook that night. She plans to teach recipes and techniques for all skill levels.

For more information or to sign up for a class, phone Miller at the florist shop at 330-835-6922 or email clairesgardenflorist@gmail.com.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Detox green smoothie; pan-grilled salmon with capers and lime beurre blanc over wilted spinach with toasted garlic and slivered almonds; over-hard eggs on toast with ketchup; sirloin steak salad with pan-seared brussels sprouts, sautéed mushrooms, red bell pepper, toasted slivered almonds and shaved Parmesan; Bolognese meat sauce baked in spaghetti squash; chocolate pudding; sugar-free strawberry Jell-O.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Hamburger, potato chips and cabbage soup at Alexandri’s in Wadsworth; pepperoni pizza from Rizzi’s in Copley; wonton soup, egg roll and stir fried chicken in black bean sauce at Ming Garden in Norton (another intolerable “Chinese” meal; is it that hard to make a decent stir fry sauce?); tacos al pastore and a taco with Korean barbecued pork belly (fabulous!) at Funky Truckeria in Norton; refried beans, a green chili beef burrito (meh) and freshly made tortilla chips (great) and salsa at Casa del Rio in Wadsworth.

THE MAILBAG
From Martha K.:
Regarding your smoothies, Robek’s has extensive healthy green smoothie options, many with calorie counts the same or less than your Detox Island Green smoothie, and one that has nearly identical ingredients. Check the Low Calorie, Superfood and Wellness selections. I like the cool cucumber fresh juice. I ask them to put it over ice, or blend it with ice to make a smoothie. Anyway, Robek’s has changed its menu quite a bit since it first opened.

Dear Martha:
Well, yes and no. The menu does have more healthful options than the (essentially) milkshakes it started with. But I’m disappointed that most of the smoothies still are made with sherbet or frozen yogurt, and even the low-cal, wellness and superfood selections are high in sugar. The green smoothie you mentioned sounds good until you get to the apple juice. The one I tried was so sweet I couldn’t finish it.

The spoiler for me is that the calories are much higher than Tropical Smoothie’s Detox, which has just 180 in a 24-ounce portion. Robek’s Queen of All Greens, made with banana, pineapple, spinach, kale and apple juice, has 180 calories for a small, which is 12 ounces. Double that for a 24-ounce smoothie and you have a meal-sized 360 calories. Sigh.

From Ron C.:
I am sure there are lots of ways to fix grits, but this is what we do. Add some crumbled bacon or bacon bits and a slice of cheese. The heat of the grits melts the cheese. Then a pat of butter on top, salt and pepper — fit for a king (or at least a prince).

Dear Ron:
Oh, yeah. Sign me up.

March 20, 2019

Dear friends,
You probably saw this coming. If you read Gut Check while I was in Florida, you know I became increasingly obsessed with a gingery green smoothie sold at the juice bar chain, Tropical Smoothie Cafe. You probably figured I couldn’t let it go when I returned to Ohio.

Today I have two happy announcements: I found a Tropical Smoothie Cafe in Cleveland (locations.tropicalsmoothiecafe.com) and one in the works for Canton. And we can now make Detox Island Green Smoothies at home.

At the restaurants, the 24-ounce green smoothie has just 180 calories and is a blend of mango, banana, pineapple, kale and spinach with a hit of fresh ginger. Tony saw a worker scoop a portion of frozen green stuff into a blender when making my smoothie one day. That led me to believe the spinach and kale were not tossed fresh into the blender. They were pureed together in advance and frozen.

At home I pureed fresh spinach and kale leaves with a bit of water in a food processor and froze it in an ice cube tray, making sure each cube held 2 tablespoons. Then I cut the mango and pineapple into one-inch cubes and froze one-cup portions in Baggies. I also froze an entire sliced banana. See? The ingredients themselves would serve as the ice in the smoothie.

The smoothies I had in Florida were creamy but not milky, with a smooth, milkshake-like consistency. I knew that meant the frozen ingredients were very finely pureed. I probably needed a Vitamix to do the job properly, but I would have to make do with my ordinary blender.

I consulted USDA calorie tables to help figure out the proportions of the recipe. If the calories in the original were just 180, I knew I couldn’t use a cup of mango and a cup of pineapple, which alone would push it over the calorie limit. I settled on one-half cup mango, one-half cup pineapple and one medium-size frozen banana. I buzzed the fruit in my food processor with three quarter-size slices of ginger and one-half cup water until fairly smooth. Then I transferred the lumpy-smooth mixture to the blender, added two frozen cubes of the greens and another one-half cup water, and blended until smooth.

I arrived at this processor-blender technique after much trial and error, finally realizing my cheap Hamilton Beach blender couldn’t handle the entire operation itself. If you own a heavy-duty blender, you can skip the processor and just dump everything in the blender.

The second smoothie I made went together much more easily, although I still had a medium-size mess on my hands — a processor bowl, blender, ice cube tray and rubber spatula to wash. To me, it was worth it.

I recommend preparing and freezing ingredients for multiple smoothies so you won’t have to start from square one when a craving hits. In my case, that will be daily.

TROPICAL DETOX SMOOTHIE

1/2 cup (lightly packed) mango chunks (1-inch square), frozen
1/2 cup (lightly packed) pineapple chunks (1-inch square), frozen
1 peeled banana, sliced and frozen
2 quarter-sized pieces fresh ginger, minced
1 cup water
2 frozen cubes spinach and kale (see note)

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the frozen mango, pineapple, banana and ginger. Pulse while pouring one-half cup of the water through the feed tube. Continue to process until the fruit begins to break down is about half chunky, half smooth.

Transfer fruit mixture to a blender. Add spinach-kale cubes and remaining one-half cup water. Pulse and then blend until very smooth. Makes 1 smoothie.

Note: To make spinach-kale cubes, combine 1 cup firmly packed fresh spinach leaves and 1 cup firmly packed fresh kale leaves (minus tough stems and ribs) in a food processor with 2 tablespoons water. Process until leaves are chopped very fine, adding more water if needed to produce a dense pesto-like mixture. Measure 2-tablespoon portions into an ice cube tray and freeze. This will make about 4 cubes. Repeat with more kale and spinach for a larger batch.

TIDBITS
In my rant on food expiration dates a couple of weeks ago, I left out two categories of food that stump many people. First, have you ever wondered how to tell when pickled and brined foods should be tossed? I have, and several years ago I tried to find out. After many calls, I finally located a food scientist who had the answer. Pickled and brined foods last a long time but not forever, he said. Cloudiness in the pickling or brining liquid is an indication that it’s time to dump the stuff in the garbage and buy a new jar.

In my food editor days, I probably got more questions about use-by dates on canned goods than any other food item. From a 2006 Ask Jane column, here’s my answer to one reader’s query:

“Whether your canned goods are over the hill or not depends in part on how they were treated. Canned foods that have been frozen or exposed to temperatures over 100 degrees deteriorate more rapidly than those stored at room temperature.

“Also, high-acid foods can react with the metal can and affect the taste, texture and nutritional value of the foods, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.

“Generally, if the cans have been stored properly, low-acid foods — such as canned meat and poultry, stews, potatoes, corn, carrots, spinach, beans, beets, peas, pumpkin, pasta and vegetable soups except tomato — will keep for two to five years. High-acid foods — such as tomato and citrus juice, apple products, mixed fruit, peaches, pears, plums, pickles and sauerkraut — should be discarded after 12 to 18 months.

“And, of course, don’t eat food from cans that are bulging, leaking, with rusted seams, or with milky liquid that should be clear.”

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Steamed stone crab claws; chicken salad with grapes, almonds and dried apricots; corned beef and cabbage.

What I ate in/from restaurants, etc.
Cuban sandwich, iced Cuban coffee at Mervis’ in Fort Pierce, Fla.; lentil soup and salad at the Orange Box Cafe in Frostproof, Fla.; pot roast, fried apples and a corn muffin at Cracker Barrel in Valdosta, Ga. (it was walking distance from our motel, a consideration when pulling a camper); a rubbery cheese omelet, ham lunch meat, yogurt and coffee at the Quality Inn in Valdosta; an egg and cheese bagel and three plain doughnut holes at a Dunkin’ Donuts in southern Kentucky; yogurt, a hard-cooked egg and coffee at a Red Roof Inn in London, Ky.; half of a meatball sub from Subway; miso soup, sunomono and a Fujiyama Roll (tempura shrimp, eel, cream cheese and salmon) and a glass of pinot Grigio at Sushi Katsu in Akron; fried fish, coleslaw and green beans at the Friday fish fry at St. Thomas Eastern Orthodox Church in Fairlawn; a spicy Thai salad with chicken and an apple at Panera Bread.

THE MAILBAG

From Mitch:
Polenta is grits and aren’t you the same person who said to me several years ago, “Y’all can keep y’all’s grits?” ….I treat grits as pasta. Anything you would put on pasta, I would put on grits, especially roast beef and gravy (instead of potatoes).

Dear Mitch:
I ate a lot of polenta AND grits in Florida, as you read in my newsletter. I have always loved polenta, which is an entirely different animal than grits… yellow, creamier, with a backbone of chicken broth. Inexplicably, I began liking polenta’s anemic cousin, grits, about a year ago. I sprinkle them with Splenda.

Dear readers:
Mitch’s letter got me thinking about all the foods I once disdained but now enjoy. Do tastes change that much as we age? I am curious — are there foods you disliked most of your life but enjoy now? I have a raft of them, from grits to okra to licorice. What are yours?

March 13, 2019

Dear friends,
As the road to Ohio unspools, carrying me from summer to early spring (I will reach Copley Thursday or Friday), I am thinking of all the good food I’ve had in Florida. I ate stone crab claws, grilled tilefish, oysters on the half shell, shrimp and grits, conch ceviche, cioppino, Cuban sandwiches, empanadas, pork barbecue, Caribbean coconut roll and a citrusy coconut chickpea soup.

On the flip side, I also had way too many McDonald’s hamburgers (while using the wi-fi there), some bad pizza, Tony’s spaghetti with red sauce, and several nights of cottage cheese for dinner.

Oddly, marrying a chef seems to have lowered my food game. We don’t dine at many contemporary-cuisine restaurants. That’s because Tony is Japanese, and Japan still adores the American foods of the 1950s. Sushi and ramen aren’t served at home. The real Japan dotes on Miracle Whip, Sanka and Ritz crackers.

Anyway, I look forward to cooking on my 5-burner stove and using my blender and food processor. I look forward to having more than one square foot of kitchen counter space. I especially look forward to making my favorite cool-weather dishes as winter segues into spring.

I don’t have a photo of this week’s recipe because I’m sharing a warming dish I plan to make, not one I just created. It is a chicken fricassee with sour cream — basically, chicken paprikas without the paprika. I made it during my first marriage, when my interest in cooking caught fire. I was about 23 or 24. I was so surprised when I was introduced to chicken paprikas a few years later. “Hey, wait,” I remember thinking. “I invented this.”

The bare bones of the following recipe is from Craig Claiborne of the New York Times.

CHICKEN FRICASSEE WITH SOUR CREAM
1 broiler-fryer chicken, about 3 1/2 lbs., cut into serving pieces (or 8 bone-in thighs)
Salt, Fresh-ground pepper
2 tbsp. flour
2 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. olive oil
½ cup coarsely chopped onion
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup water
1 bay leaf
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
½ cup sour cream

Sprinkle the chicken pieces liberally with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with flour. Heat the butter and oil in a skillet. Add the chicken pieces skin side down. Cook over medium-high heat until lightly browned. Turn and brown the other side.

Scatter the onion over all, stir and cook 30 seconds. Add the garlic and stir. Cook until the onion begins to soften.

Add the wine, water, bay leaf and thyme. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Stir in the sour cream and heat but do not bring to a boil. Makes 4 servings.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Dried fava beans. I found them (labeled “broad beans”) in the Spanish section of a Walmart. Do they make me feel more cheerful? Maybe a little.

What I ate in/from restaurants and food shops:
A dark-rum cake from Edible Spirits in Stuart (THAT made me cheerful); a Detox Green Island smoothie from Tropical Smoothie Cafe in Stuart; pulled pork sandwich from Sonny’s Bar-B-Que; another Detox smoothie from Tropical Smoothie Cafe (I’m obsessed); a gyoza, one fried shrimp, Mongolian beef, a chunk of fresh pineapple and two deep-fried sugar dough balls at Sakura Japanese Buffet in Stuart; a McDonald’s hamburger; scrambled eggs, grits, toast, ham and coffee at Pogie’s in Okeechobee; a chef’s salad from The Diner in Fort Pierce; a fabulous, crunchy, lush shrimp po’ boy at Good Spirits in Okeechobee; a McDonald’s Egg McMuffin and coffee.

THE MAILBAG
From Ellen M.:
Thanks, Jane, for the great article on “use by” dates. Everyone thought I was crazy, cheap, etc. because I went by taste and smell. I’ve kept salad dressing long after the date — again, I taste it and decide. I always keep milk in the back of the fridge and it goes way beyond the use date. Flour I keep in the fridge and so far I’ve never had a problem. My yeast is 2 years old. I keep it in the freezer and it bubbles up perfectly.

I need to try the Italian wedding soup at Vaccaro’s (from last week’s newsletter). So far, Yocono’s is still my favorite wedding soup.

Dear Ellen:
I haven’t had Yocono’s wedding soup but I’ll try it if anyone has recipe.

From Carol B.
We keep our spices in the door of the top freezer in our fridge. The extras are in plastic containers on the shelves. My husband alphabetized them and taped labels on the shelves and containers. I pretty much know where they are, so that I can grab them quickly when I open the door, minimizing the warm air entering the freezer. They last a lot longer that way. I also tape labels, indicating the purchase date, to the jars after I bring them home from the store. I once kept bay eaves that way for several years and they were fine. I know we’re a bit obsessive, but it saves a lot of money in the long run.

Dear Carol:
Any way you can prolong the life of herbs and spices is a good thing because they are so expensive. I buy what I can in ethnic food stores, where prices are much lower than in supermarkets. The quality isn’t as good, of course, which is why I treasure the Penzey’s 4-pack of cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg a generous friend gave me as a hostess gift. I plan to invite her to dinner a lot more often.

March 6,2019

Dear friends,
Go tropical. That has long been my culinary answer to suffering through the tail end of winter.

One year I made a big platter of black beans and rice topped with Cuban roast pork and mango salsa. Another year I cranked up Beach Boys music and served white sangrias and coconut shrimp.

Last weekend I craved the sweet-savory flavor of coconut shrimp but didn’t want the mess of frying just before packing up the camper to head North into winter, so I invented coconut shrimp tacos. I think. I’m tired of Googling my recipe ideas to find someone in Timbuktu has already thought of it, so I’m just going with the notion that this is original. Certainly, the recipe is.

My tacos taste like coconut shrimp but without the batter and mess of deep frying. To mimic the flavor I sprinkled lightly toasted coconut over mojo-flavored shrimp in freshly warmed taco shells. I topped the tacos with a simple mango salsa for an extra tropical punch. They really do taste like coconut shrimp.

The tacos are substantial. Tony could eat just four. I layered my share of the filling on romaine leaves instead of taco shells but still could eat just three. They made me feel sunny and happy. Now comes the trek North.

COCONUT SHRIMP TACOS

1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut
1 cup mango in 1/4-inch cubes
1 cup jicama in 1/4-inch cubes
1/4 cup minced sweet onion
1 tsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. fresh lime juice
1/4 tsp. salt or to taste
Pinch of ancho chili powder or cayenne
10 medium (5-inch) flour tortillas (or substitute romaine lettuce leaves)
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 lb. large raw shrimp, shells and tails removed
1/4 cup mojo criollo marinade
Minced green onion tops for garnish

Heat a large nonstick or cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Scatter coconut in the dry skillet and toast, stirring, until patches just begin to lightly brown. The coconut should be half toasted but still moist, not crunchy. Remove from heat and scrape into a small bowl. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine mango, jicama, sweet onion, the 1 teaspoon olive oil, lime juice and salt and mix well. Set aside.

Wipe out the skillet and return to medium-high heat. Toast the tortillas one at a time in the dry skillet, turning when brown spots begin to appear on one side. Toast the other side and fold in half with tongs. Don’t toast too long or the tortilla will become too crisp to fold. Transfer to a platter.

Heat the one tablespoon oil in the same skillet over high heat. Pat the shrimp dry with paper towels and place in skillet. Cook briefly, stirring (30 seconds to 1 minute). When shrimp are almost cooked through, add mojo marinade and stir for 30 seconds. Remove from heat.

To assemble, place 3 or 4 shrimp in each taco shell or romaine lettuce leaf. Sprinkle each with about 2 teaspoons toasted coconut. Top with the salsa and garnish with the minced green onion, if desired. Makes 10 substantial tacos.

TIDBITS
If you get caught up in the Konmari cleaning method that’s sweeping the country, please don’t tear through your kitchen cabinets and refrigerator, tossing out everything beyond its expiration date. Your 1980s suits with the big shoulder pads have an expiration date. Your saffron does not.

I, too, have caught the Konmari bug (named after Marie Kondo, author of “The Life- Changing Magic of Tidying Up”) and plan to pillage my closets, pantry and spice cabinet the minute I return home from Florida. But I will not discard food just because of an arbitrary expiration date, and neither should you.

The “best if used by” dates on food packages do not indicate you will die or become ill if you consume the food after that time. In most cases the expiration date has nothing to do with food safety. It is merely a suggestion that the quality may begin to decline after that date.

Vitamins may begin to fade or the texture may be a bit wonky or the color may not be as true. But you will not die if you eat it.

Your nose, eyes and common sense are the best indicators of when it is time to discard a food. That’s because how carefully you store a food plays a big role in how long it will “last.” For example, foods that are frozen in their store packaging will get freezer burn and develop an off taste far sooner than foods that are double- or triple-wrapped at home before freezing.

Many frozen foods have an official shelf life of 6 to 12 months. But not if you wrap it twice in plastic wrap and then in foil before you stash it in the freezer. If you buy a frozen turkey on sale after Thanksgiving and wrap it well, it should still be in good shape two years later. I know because I’ve eaten perfectly delicious 2-year-old turkeys. And please note that as long as the power doesn’t go out, the food in a freezer will
never, ever spoil. It may not taste great five years later, but it will be safe to eat.

Another example: Milk may turn sour in a matter of days or remain fresh for a couple of weeks or more depending on how it is handled. If you stop on the way home from the store on a warm day, the heat will shorten the shelf life of the milk in the back seat. If you leave the milk on the kitchen table for 30 minutes while enjoying your morning coffee, the lifespan of the milk is shortened. Even if the milk is rushed home and returned to the refrigerator after each use, but is stored at the front of a shelf near the door, the frequent exposure to room-temperature air will shorten its life (although not as much).

I once bought more milk than I could use in a week and kept the extra half-gallon at the back of the refrigerator, out of the way. When I opened it two weeks later, it smelled and tasted as fresh as just-bought milk.

The lesson is to rely on your nose and tastebuds. Does it smell fresh? Does it taste fresh? Then use it.

This is especially true when it comes to herbs and spices. I can’t wait to tackle my overflowing spice cabinet when I return home, but I won’t so much as glance at “use by” dates or look up longevity info on the Internet. I will toss out the rosemary that is so old it has faded to gray, and the ground cardamom that no longer smells pungent. But I will keep the old bottle of “chili powder” (that mix of ground chilies, cumin and whatnot popular in Northern states) because you never know when a recipe will call for it, and I’ll be damned if I’ll buy another jar of a spice I disdain for a mere teaspoon in a misguided recipe I’m testing.

I will discard dried herbs when they no longer smell like the herb. If they have faded in pungency just a bit, I will keep them and merely add more than is called for. I will never throw out whole spices such as nutmeg, cloves and cumin seeds. They retain their pungency far longer than ground spices. For years, in fact.

Some foods defy the sniff and taste test, and live by different rules. Old baking powder and old flour do not perform as well as fresh, so you might want to toss them at their expiration dates. Then again, you may not want to buy a new bag of self-rising flour for the occasional Southern biscuit recipe, and like me, you’re prepared to take your chances. Just remember it’s your choice, not the food manufacturer’s.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Surrollos; coconut shrimp tacos with mango-jicama salsa.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Cheeseburger from McDonald’s; tacos al pastor, chorizo and asada with onions, cilantro and lime, and rice and beans from the Taqueria La Unica food truck in Okeechobee; a yogurt parfait from McDonald’s; Thai beef salad at Noodle World in Stuart, Fla.; a Detox Green Island smoothie from Tropical Smoothie Cafe in Palm City; a Cobb salad with shrimp at Parrott Island Grill in Okeechobee; a chicken empanada and half of a Cubanado empanada (filled with Cuban sandwich ingredients) and a cafe con leche at Mervis’ Cafe in Fort Pierce; a Detox smoothie at Tropical Smoothie Cafe in Cocoa Beach; a seasoned hamburger patty, cottage cheese and lots of fruit at Pogie’s in Okeechobee; half of a meatball sub from Subway.

THE MAILBAG
From Janet M.:
Oh, Dobie’s Corner! My husband and I frequented the place (mentioned last week) so very often. In fact, when George (Dobrin) closed the place he returned the restaurant sign to the wood carver, a friend of ours, who made it for him. Our friend gave it to us because he knew how much we liked that restaurant. The sign found a good home. It’s now on the entry way to our dining room.

Maybe I’ll hit my husband up to make mititay (those delicious fingers of meat) this weekend, if I make polenta to accompany them. Thanks, Jane, for the memories.

Dear Janet:
I loved the tiny Bath restaurant, too, especially the soups. I still make several of them, including potato and greens and Roquefort and cabbage. Dobie’s was the first place I encountered polenta and it was love at first bite. At Dobie’s it was called by its Romanian name, “mamaliga,” as I’m sure you remember.

From Marilyn:
I made your Italian wedding soup for a wine pairing dinner party last week and it was a huge hit. Maybe you could share the recipe with your readers it is the best.

Dear Marilyn:
The recipe is the best one I’ve seen for wedding soup, too. Raphael Vaccaro of Vaccaro’s Trattoria in Bath shared his treasured family recipe for a story I wrote in 2001.

MEATBALLS
1 lb. ground veal or chuck
1/2 lb. ground pork
3 eggs
1/2 tsp pepper
Pinch of salt
2 cups Pecorino Romano cheese
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
Seasoned bread crumbs

Gently mix together veal or chuck and pork. Add eggs, pepper, salt, cheese and parsley and mix lightly but well. Gently work in enough seasoned bread crumbs to make a firm mixture. Roll into meat balls the size of grapes.

Place on baking sheets with sides and bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes. Meatballs may be cooled, then frozen. Use directly from the freezer.

ITALIAN WEDDING SOUP
3 qts. chicken stock or broth
1/2 cup finely chopped carrots
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
1/2 cup finely chopped onions
2 cups finely chopped endive or escarole
2 cups finely chopped fresh spinach
2 cups tiny meatballs
4 eggs
2 cups grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1 cup of Acini di Pepe pasta, cooked al dente
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Measure all ingredients and place them in bowls on the counter, in the order they will be used.

Bring broth to a simmer in a large soup pot. Add carrots, celery, onions, endive and spinach. Add the meatballs. Simmer uncovered for about 30 minutes, until carrots are tender.

In a medium bowl, combine cheese and egg and mix well. Scrape mixture in a lump into the center of the simmering soup. Let simmer for 2 to 3 minutes without stirring. Lift the mass occasionally with a slotted spoon to keep it from sticking to the bottom of the pan. The soup is done when the egg-cheese mixture looks firm. Gently break apart with a spoon.

Remove soup from heat. Stir in the pasta. Season to taste with freshly ground pepper. Serve hot.

Makes 10 to 12 servings.

February 27,2019

Dear friends:
I longed for something comforting to eat. The world had gotten bitey. My dog was in a vet hospital far from home, my stomach was aching and the plumbing was clogged. That’s when I read about surrollos in Barbara Kingsolver’s new a book, “Unsheltered: A Novel.”

In the book, Willa’s historic old house is splitting apart at the seams. The upstairs bedrooms, wet and cold, are abandoned for a bed of quilts on the living room floor. The gas had been turned off and any cooking that is done takes place on a camp stove.The cupboards were practically bare when Jorge, her daughter Tig’s boyfriend, decided to make something from nothing for dinner. He scrounged up cornmeal, sugar and a nubbin of cheese that he asked Willa to grate.

“He was stirring cornmeal into the boiling water in a meditative way, thickening it into a yellow batter. Tig lit the other camp stove burner and heated oil in a skillet. Jorge took Willa’s plate of cheese and stirred it into his batter….

“Jorge rubbed oil into his hands and began rolling the steaming batter between his palms into fat little cigars. …Jorge used (the oil in the skillet) to fry his cornmeal cigars. …

“He held out a plate of golden corn fritters….Willa took a bite and held it between her front teeth until it cooled enough to taste: crisp on the outside, sweet and melty in the middle. She made an appreciative noise with her mouth full.

“ ‘Yummy, right?’ Tig said. ‘You’re supposed to eat them with garlicky mayonnaise.’
Willa obediently got out the mayonnaise, found some garlic to peel and dice, and wondered what other miracles these kids would pull out of an empty larder.”

Recipe sites call them variously surollos, sorullitos and surullitos, but the technique is the same: Stir salt, sugar and corn meal into water, add grated cheese, shape into stubby cigars and fry in oil. Few ingredients and no hassle, which is what I’m in the mood for right now.

SURROLLOS

2 cups water
1 1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp. sugar
1 1/4 cups fine yellow corn meal
1 cup shredded cheese (any melty cheese such as gouda, Cheddar or Queso de bollo)
Canola oil for frying

Bring water to boil in a medium pot over medium-high heat. Add salt and sugar. Slowly whisk in cornmeal. Reduce heat to low. Cook, whisking constantly, until water is absorbed and dough pulls away from pot, 3 to 5 minutes.

Remove from heat. Stir in cheese and continue stirring until completely melted and incorporated. When cool enough to handle, scoop up chunks and roll into finger-length cigars tapered at each end.

Heat 1½ inches of oil in a deep skillet over medium-high heat.The temperature should be 350 degrees on a deep-fry thermometer if you’re measuring. I just dropped in a dab of the cornmeal stuff and made sure the oil bubbled frantically around it. Fry in batches until golden and crisp, 3 to 4 minutes. Drain on paper towels and serve hot with garlic mayonnaise or ketchup mayonnaise for dipping.

GARLIC MAYONNAISE
1 cup mayonnaise
3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced, or to taste

Combine ingredients, cover and chill until the garlic flavors the mayonnaise. Or eat immediately if you can’t wait.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Blue cheese burgers on buns, corn kernels and diced avocado in vinaigrette, a bloody Mary.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
A few bites of spaghetti with meat sauce and a piece of chocolate cake at the Shriner’s hall in Okeechobee; a piece of cornbread at Pogey’s in Okeechobee; a ham, egg and cheese sandwich on an everything bagel at Dunkin’ Donuts; raw oysters, conch ceviche, grilled tilefish, slaw and a hush puppy at Lightsey’s Fish Co. in Okeechobee; a Quarter Pounder and a few fries at McDonald’s; a chicken empanada, ham croquetta and a roast pork sandwich from Lazz’s Cuban Cafe food truck in Okeechobee; an egg roll and a few bites of “Hunan chicken” from Bucio, a Chinese food truck run by a Mexican family (and it tasted like it) in Okeechobee.

THE MAILBAG
From Dennis A.:
What I miss most at Lou & Hy’s is the Macadamia Nut Cream Pie. By any chance did Tage (the chef) give you this recipe? Do any of your readers have the recipe?

Dear Dennis:
That pie was one of the most popular items at the old Akron delicatessen. I never got the recipe, but Beacon Journal readers asked so often that we found versions that were close, such as this one from Evie Dobrin, owner with her husband, George, of Dobie’s Corners restaurant in Bath. It ran in the newspaper in 2002.

MACADAMIA NUT CREAM PIE
1 (9-inch) baked pie shell or graham cracker crust
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
Pinch of salt
3 egg yolks
2 cups milk
1 tbsp. butter
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 tbsp. coffee-flavored liqueur
1/2 cup chopped macadamia nuts
Whole macadamia nuts for garnish Prepare and cool pie shell.

Beat sugar, cornstarch, salt and egg yolks in a small bowl until well mixed. Heat milk in a medium saucepan just to a simmer. Stir sugar mixture into hot milk, whisking rapidly. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens, about three minutes. Do not boil.

Remove from heat and stir in butter. Cover with waxed paper and chill.

Beat one-half cup of the heavy cream until stiff; fold into cooled custard with coffee liqueur and all but one tablespoon of chopped nuts. Spoon into pastry shell. Chill several hours or overnight.

Whip remaining cream. Spread over pie. Sprinkle with reserved nuts.

February 20,2019

Dear friends,
Although the thermometer says “summer” here in Florida (the temps are in the 80s this week), the produce says “winter.” Root vegetables are plentiful. Everything else, not so much.

I did get a watermelon that turned out to be from Guatemala and cost $7.50, I discovered at the cash register. Strawberries from Plant City and citrus fruit from nearby groves are in season, but most tender vegetables are not. The tomatoes I find at vegetable markets are as hard and tasteless as those in Ohio supermarkets at this time of year. Maybe that’s due to the type of tomato planted here — thick-walled for bruise-free transport.

Which is why I served carrots last week with my very summery meal of steamed stone crab claws with melted butter. The crab claws, plucked from the water, quick frozen and bought not a half-mile from the source in Everglades City, tasted like the ocean.

The carrots managed to taste summery, too, thanks to a high-voltage lemon dressing. I used equal parts olive oil and fresh-squeezed lemon juice.

I cut the carrots into batons and cooked them briefly in a lidded skillet with a bit of butter and salt. Most carrot salads feature raw carrots, but I think the vegetable tastes best when heat transforms the starches to sugars. Why butter and not olive oil? Because everything tastes better with butter. I tossed the carrots with the dressing, sliced green onions and grated Parmesan and chilled. The salad was simple but so good I’ll be making it often, no matter what the weather.

COLD LEMON CARROTS

4 or 5 medium carrots cut in batons (1/4- by 2 1/2 inches)
1 tbsp. butter
Salt
2 green onions, sliced
2 tsp. olive oil
2 tsp. lemon juice
2 tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese

Place carrots and butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. When butter melts, swirl to coat the carrots and skillet and sprinkle with salt. Cover and cook 4 to 5 minutes, until almost soft. Transfer to a bowl and toss with green onions, olive oil, lemon juice and Parmesan cheese. Chill. Makes 4 servings.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Savory chorizo and corn bread pudding in the slow cooker (I burnt it); carrot salad with lemon dressing, steamed stone crab claws with melted butter.

What I ate in/from restaurants, etc.:
Seasoned hamburger patty, cottage cheese, lots of fruit at Pogey’s in Okeechobee; strips of grilled sirloin steak, grilled onions and bell peppers and a bite of refried beans at Pueblo Viejo in Okeechobee; half a ham and provolone sub from Subway; spaghetti with meat sauce, salad, Italian bread and homemade white cake with delicious dripping icing at the Okeechobee Shriners Hall ($8 including karaoke!); a heart-shaped Bavarian doughnut dusted with powdered sugar at Dunkin’ Donuts (my Valentine’s treat); a Cuban sandwich and plantain chips from Mervis’ in Ft. Pierce; a spinach, banana, mango and ginger smoothie at the Tropical Smoothie Cafe in Port St. Lucie; an Indian taco (chili, lettuce, tomato and shredded cheese on fry bread) and a frozen chocolate banana at the Seminole Indian Field Day and Rodeo in Brighton; pulled pork, roast beef, corn bread, lima beans, a brussels sprout, a dab of mashed potatoes and a sugar-free chocolate cookie at Golden Corral in Okeechobee.

THE MAILBAG
From Pat K.:
I am a native Clevelander living in Las Vegas. We moved here a little over a year ago, but before that we lived in Jupiter, Fla., for 14 years. You are so right about there not being any local fresh fish markets. The best way to get fresh fish is to make friends with someone who has a boat! If you ever take a ride to Jupiter, one of my favorite restaurants was the Galley Grill Also a great Cuban restaurant is Copacabana.

In Palm Gardens, there a Mediterranean restaurant called Aladdin where you can get a gyro lunch special for $9.99. I wish I could find something that compares here in Vegas!

Dear Pat:
I have had some awesome food in Vegas, including tins of fresh caviar served on a tavern-sized bar made of ice. Ah, the good old days of expense accounts. Sorry I can’t return the favor with great, reasonably priced Vegas suggestions. I am so glad you wrote, though. I will try some of your Florida favorites. We have already been to Jupiter once and now we will go back.

What’s up with the lack of fish markets? Two other people who live here wrote, agreeing with us on that score.

From Char K.:
Regarding peeling garlic, tell your readers to put a clove or two in the microwave for 5 to 10 seconds, depending on the size. The peel will come right off. I think I learned this trick in a microwave class years and years ago. Occasionally the clove will pop and get hot, but put a knife through the end of the clove and the skin comes right off.

Dear Char:
Never heard of this. I tried it and it works! My usual method is to just smash the cloves with the flat side of a knife. That works, too.

From Carol C.:
I just read your recent newsletter and I highly recommend the garlic peeler from Pampered Chef. To me it was worth the dollars. It’s a rubber tube, open on both ends. Drop the cloves in the tube, roll it on a flat surface or between your hands, and skins come right off. The other part of the peeler is a gadget that slices the garlic once peeled. I hated what I paid for it, but for me, who has horrible arthritis in my fingers, it was worth it.

Dear Carol:
Donna G.also recommended this gadget, which costs $22 to $26, according to various websites. That IS steep for a little rubber tube, but I just may buy one. Can anyone think of a hardware-store alternative?

From Argery G.:
I have had a taste for cheesecake lately. I now live in new Jersey not far from New York City. While I have eaten many different types of cheesecake here, nothing is as good as Lou & Hy’s…in particular, the chocolate cheesecake.

My mom gave me a printout that appeared in a blog by the Summit County Historical Society dated 2-16-13 with a recipe referencing you as the source from an Akron Beacon Journal article on 10-15-03 with a recipe for the plain cheesecake. I tried making it and I also added some Baker’s chocolate another time for a chocolate version. It was good, but the cake wasn’t as dense as I remember. I think the whipping cream was too loose as the cake is a little too loose even after refrigeration. The recipe didn’t specify it but I added the confectioners’ sugar to the whipping cream. I baked it in a water bath but the top still cracked. I was using a 10-inch springform pan and I baked it at 325 degrees for about an hour.

Do you recall this article? I’m wondering if you have any updates on the recipe that was originally posted.

Dear Argery:
The former chef of Lou & Hy’s gave me the recipe after he retired and that’s the one I printed in 2003. It makes way more than one cheesecake. I cut down the recipe for my cookbook, “Jane Snow Cooks,” but unfortunately I did not bring a copy with me to Florida and the digital copy is on a computer at home.

I do know that the cheesecake is baked for more than two hours, not one hour, so I’m not sure that the recipe you referenced is correct. Here is the original recipe, straight from Tage Hojefeldt, the late chef. Be careful to not over beat the batter, which will produce an airy rather than a dense cake.

When I tested the recipe, I baked it in three graduated springform pans, the kind sold in a set. I baked the cakes directly on the oven rack, not in a boiling water bath. The key to producing a cheesecake that doesn’t crack is to bake it until it is mostly but not quite set. The center should still jiggle. It will firm up as it cools.

LOU & HY’S CHEESECAKE
Crust:
4 cups graham cracker crumbs
10 tbsp. melted butter

Cakes:
8 packages (8 oz. each) cream cheese, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups plus 2 tbsp. flour
2 3/4cups plus 2 tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 pint (2 cups) sour cream
9 eggs
2 half-pint containers whipping cream
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tbsp. vanilla
1 tbsp. lemon juice
Cherry, blueberry or pineapple pie filling
Whipped cream if desired

For the crust: Stir and toss crumbs with melted butter. Press equal amounts into the bottoms of four 8- or 8 1/2-inch-round springform pans, or a 9 1/2-, 8 1/2- and 7 1/2-inch pans. Set aside.

For the cake: In a 5-quart mixer bowl, beat cream cheese with an electric mixer until fluffy. Slowly beat in flour, then sugar. Add salt and sour cream and beat until smooth, scraping down sides occasionally with a rubber spatula.

Add eggs one at a time, beating on low speed after each addition just until egg is incorporated. Bowl will be very full. Turn off mixer. Scrape bowl and stir with a rubber spatula until batter is uniformly mixed.

In a very large bowl, beat whipping cream until slightly thickened. While beating, slowly add sugar, vanilla and lemon juice until soft peaks form.

Pour one-fourth of the cream cheese mixture into the bowl with the whipped cream and fold until incorporated. Add half of remaining batter and fold again, then fold in remaining batter.

Pour over crusts in springform pans. Place in a boiling water bath and bake in a preheated, 325-degree oven for about 2 1/2 hours; or place pans directly on oven shelves and bake in a preheated, 350-degree oven until cheesecakes are almost set. To test for doneness, gently shake pans. The cheesecakes should still wiggle slightly in the centers. Without the water bath, baking time will be about 40 minutes for a 7 1/2-inch cake, 50 minutes for an 8- to 8 1/2-inch cake, and 60 minutes for a 9 1/2-inch cake.

Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate. Before serving, run a sharp knife between the cake and sides of the pan. Release the clamp, spread the sides and lift the sides off the cake. Top with pie filling and decorate with whipped cream, if desired.

February 13, 2019

Dear friends,
I am starting to lose track of time. A month nights, a year of days. October drifting into May. Tony was surprised recently when I mentioned it was Sunday. I’m not that bad, although I do have to look at a calendar to figure out the date. Mid-February already? The breezy, sunny days flow together like summer vacation as a kid.

We are waiting out the snow and ice in ranch country, 30 miles from the beach. Steers outnumber people here in south-central Florida. A bit further south is sugar-cane country, where harvested fields are set afire to prepare them for the next crop. In a state without hills, let alone mountains, the plumes of black smoke are visible for miles.

We are trying to eat local, but it’s difficult. I inhale as many honeybells and grapefruit as I can, but a watermelon I bought at a farm stand turned out to be from Guatemala, and local seafood and beef are elusive. A butcher explained why I can’t find local beef. Florida has plenty of pastures but few if any feed lots where cattle are fattened up before slaughter. Florida herds are shipped north on the hoof rather than butchered here.

The dearth of local seafood is inexplicable. I have had a hard time finding a seafood store even on the coast. Ideally, I’d like to buy some fish directly from a boat. We’re still looking. Meanwhile, we drove a couple of hours Sunday to a seafood festival in Port Everglades for a few nuggets of fried alligator and some chewy fried clams. I bet they were frozen. The festival had more to offer, but the crowd was dense.

On our way out of town we stopped at the Marathon gas station to load up on stone crab claws, the specialty of the region. We scored a 3-pound bag, frozen, for $30. Yes, at a gas station. I’ll cook the crab claws this week.

The only cooking I did last week was a chicken salad and some sausages. Yeah, not exactly Florida food. The salad was delicious, though.

I couldn’t stop thinking about the combination of rice, chicken, dates, almonds and pineapple after Kris F. described it in an email I shared last week. What if I used basmati rice, I mused? And added some warm spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg? The resulting salad was so addictive I finished off the leftovers for breakfast. Thanks, Kris.

CHICKEN AND RICE SALAD WITH PINEAPPLE AND DATES

2 cups cooked chicken in 1/2-inch cubes
1 cup cooked basmati rice
1 cup pineapple tidbits
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
1/2 cup chopped dates
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
2 pinches nutmeg
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tbsp. pineapple juice
1 tsp. lemon juice

Combine, chicken, rice, pineapple, almonds and dates and mix well. Sprinkle with salt, cinnamon and nutmeg and mix again to distribute spices. In a small bowl, beat together mayonnaise and juices. Pour over chicken mixture and stir well. Makes 4 servings.

HELP U COOK
I found a substitute for Miracle Whip. Look no further than the Japanese section of your nearest Asian grocery store where you will find Kewpie mayonnaise. It is a virtual clone of Miracle Whip, which was basically ruined when the fat content was reduced a few years ago, resulting in dressing that turns watery on salads overnight.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Not much. A chicken-rice salad with dates and pineapple; pan-grilled Italian sausage.

What I ate in/from restaurants last week:
Ground beef patty, cottage cheese and fruit at Pogey’s in Okeechobee; cream cheese wonton, Mongolian beef (sort of) and hot tea at Chen’s in Okeechobee; a Cuban sandwich, plantain chips, yuca fries, beef and chicken empanadas and a coconut pastry from Mervis’ in Ft. Pierce (spread over three meals); two biscuits and jam from Pogey’s; chicken and beef empanadas from Mervis’ in Ft. Pierce; fried alligator, fried clams and hush puppies at the Everglades City Seafood Festival.

THE MAILBAG
From Geoff H.:
In reply to Sherrie W. asking about beans, perhaps she can benefit by going to this website: https://www.ranchogordo.com/.

It’s called “Rancho Gordo” and they sell a large variety of heritage beans. I’ve tried several and they have all been exceptional. The website describes each variety they sell and what dishes they could best be used in. They also have many recipes using beans and I’m sure she could find a variety that would please her here. It’s the only place I buy beans now.

Dear Geoff:
When Sherrie mentioned she used to buy beans online, this is the site I figured she used because it is considered the best. If not, I urge her to try Rancho Gordo. At the very least, she should find a good substitute for the beans that no longer seem crisp. Geoff, your email gave me the idea of buying dried fava beans online. With their dopamine content, my mood swings soon may be a thing of the past. Tony thanks you.

From Carol B.:
I am so tired of dealing with garlic cloves. They’re sticky and it’s hard to get rid of the skins. What do you think of the substitutes for fresh garlic, like marinated minced garlic and dehydrated minced garlic? Both of these come in jars and are so much easier to use.

Dear Carol:
I hear you, but unfortunately nothing packs the punch of fresh garlic. I think packaged, minced garlic pales in comparison. Tony found peeled whole cloves once that were great, but they came in such a gargantuan package that I couldn’t use them all before they shriveled.

I have tried various short-cut methods of peeling garlic with no success. The skin is supposed to fall off if you shake the whole cloves in a lidded jar, but it didn’t work for me. Maybe if I had continued shaking for 15 minutes, but otherwise, no. One tip: If you wet your hands and knife before mincing, the garlic won’t be as sticky.

February 6, 2019

Dear friends,
Besides groceries, my purchases in Florida so far have been one soup bowl and a packet of elastic bands for my unruly hair. On Sunday alone, I talked Tony out of acquiring a 6-foot cardboard Tony Tiger and a curb-alert brown leather sofa. He wanted the sofa badly.

Me: What would you do with it?
Tony: Load it in the truck and take it back to Ohio.
Me: And then what?
Tony: ??

I don’t want to spoil Tony’s fun, but we are living for two months in a 1-room (plus bath), 22-foot travel trailer with a Murphy bed. Last week at the flea market Tony bought an abacus-like back massager, two large loofah sponges, a small lidded pan and a high-backed rattan counter stool. We don’t have a counter. He wanted to fit the stool into the five square feet of floor space that already is junked up with a leather-like ottoman (“for the dog”) and footstool he bought at a second-hand store.

Our entire marriage has been a push-pull between Tony’s wanton urge to buy things and my desire for responsible consumerism, between his tendency to hoard and mine to pare back. And then last week I watched “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” on Netflix. Oh, boy.

Marie is author of the best-seller, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” Her theory is that people should prune their possessions down to the few things that “spark joy”. Hold that chipped paring knife in your hands, one of six in the drawer, and close your eyes. Do you feel joy? If not, ditch it.

Which brings me to the 50-cent yellow bowl I bought Sunday at a flea market. It does not spark joy, but I can’t keep using the same cheap blue and white Corelle dinner ware for my newsletter photos. So I hope you enjoy the photo of this week’s recipe, a coconut chickpea soup with notes of ginger and orange.

The recipe, with minor changes, is from the Florida Citrus Commission. The coconut-ginger broth is so good I plan to use it in other recipes, such as quick bowl dinners (add a grain, protein and wilted greens) and steamed mussels.

While slurping, it’s hard to remember the soup is vegetarian. If you don’t normally cook with vegetable broth, feel free to use chicken broth instead. If the chickpeas aren’t hearty enough for you, toss in a handful of cubed tofu or some shrimp.

The yellow bowl in the photo goes to Goodwill as soon as we return to Akron. I wish I could say the same for the rattan stool.

COCONUT CHICKPEA SOUP

2 tbsp. olive oil
1 cup diced onions
1 1/2 cups diced carrots
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. minced fresh ginger
3 cloves minced garlic
1 can (14 oz.) light coconut milk
4 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 can (about 15 oz.) chickpeas
1/2 cup orange juice
Chopped cilantro for garnish

Heat oil in a soup kettle. Add onions, carrots, bell pepper and salt. Sauté over medium-high heat until onion is translucent. Add ginger and garlic and sauté 1 to 2 minutes, until fragrant.

Stir in coconut milk, broth and chickpeas. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 15 minutes to blend flavors. Remove from heat and stir in orange juice. Ladle into bowls and garnish with cilantro if desired. Make 6 to 8 servings.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Grilled blue cheese burgers on buttered, toasted buns; shrimp cocktails, bloody Marys and grilled corn; coconut chickpea soup with orange and ginger.

What I ate in/from restaurants last week:
Hamburger patty, cottage cheese and a ton of diced fresh fruit at Pogey’s in Okeechobee, Fla.; ground beef empanada and a media noche (Cuban sandwich on sweet bread) at Tropical Latin Food in Port St. Lucie, Fla.; McDonald’s hamburger Happy Meal (for the wi-fi connection, I swear); a chocolate glazed doughnut at Dunkin’ Donuts; a piece of black olive, pepperoni and onion pizza and a garlic knot (a fresh dinner roll drenched in chopped garlic and butter) at Joey’s Pizza in Okeechobee; a chicken salad sandwich on a toasted onion bagel from Max’s Bagels in Stuart, Fla.

THE MAILBAG
From Noreen:
I made cioppino, too, just before your newsletter with the recipe came out. Aldi sells (seasonally) a bag of mixed seafood which includes scallops, mussels, shrimp and calamari. With all the seafood ready to go, it made it a quick after-work meal. It was almost as good as the version with the hand-selected seafood.

Dear Noreen:
Good to know. When I’m not near an ocean, I will check it out. I have found a lot of cool products at Aldi, from the Seedtastic bread to the inexpensive six-packs of bone-in chicken thighs to my current crush, snappy-crisp dill gherkins.

From Kris F.:
As a University of Akron college student in the mid-90s, my first “real” employer would make a special-occasion chicken salad to share in our small office. Her chicken salad made me a fan. I asked for the recipe more than once but she always got a little smile and said, “Maybe one day.”

Well, she passed away very suddenly over 20 years ago and I never got the recipe. I have scoured the internet and Googled the ingredients, all to no avail. Her magic recipe: chicken, pineapple tidbits, dates, slivered almonds and rice. My palate was not sophisticated enough to tell if it was Miracle Whip or real mayo, but the combination was heavenly. There were also tiny flecks of brown in the salad — cinnamon? bits of dates?

I’m writing to see if you have ever come across this recipe.

Dear Kris:
The ingredients sounded pretty normal until I got to the rice. I’ve never seen that in chicken salad, although now I want to taste it. Maybe the brown flecks were grated nutmeg? Maybe it was a rice salad recipe to which she added chicken? The recipe is unusual enough to stick in the mind of anyone who has come across it. Can anyone help?

January 30, 2019

Dear friends,
Just slap me now and get it over with, because I’m going to complain about the weather. I know my readers in Ohio and other northern states are locked in the worst deep freeze in 20 years. I sympathize, honest. But on Sunday we endured some weather here in Florida that scared me out of my flip flops.

Tony, I and the dog were already huddling in our camper with the heater on as temperatures began dropping to the 40s. That was OK. We were prepared with wooly pullovers and a fabulously warming dinner of cioppino — a San Francisco seafood stew that I served over cheesy polenta, as I once enjoyed it at the Ritz Carlton in San Francisco.

Dinner was great. What got us was the blasting rain and strong winds that buffeted our small camper trailer afterward. I finally crawled into bed with the dog and hid under the covers while Tony ran from window to window to see whether our awning had ripped off yet. I feared even worse after the tornado warnings a day earlier.

We survived. I kept telling myself, “At least it’s not a blizzard.” Those who are enduring a blizzard can take comfort that at least you aren’t in North Dakota, where the temperatures have been in the minus whackadoodle range all winter. Except my friend, Tamila, who IS in North Dakota. I’m sorry, Tam.

I made cioppino this week with my snow-bound friends in mind. It will really warm you up. I have always loved cioppino, but especially the one I had at the Ritz all those years ago. The great Gary Danko, chef there at the time, served it in a bowl over polenta, turning it into a lumberjack feast. I had Danko’s recipe at one time and lost it. I found it again online in time for Sunday’s cooking session.

I made the polenta first in a slapdash way because I didn’t want to spend 20 minutes stirring. Instead, I sautéed onions and garlic in a skillet in butter, added wine and reduced it by half, and poured it all into a pan of chicken stock. Then I whisked in all of the polenta and stirred it over fairly high heat until it thickened, about 5 minutes. I covered the pot at that point and let it cook over low heat on its own for 15 minutes, stirring once or twice. Voila — perfectly delicious polenta. Of course, I enriched it with butter and grated Parmesan to amp up the flavor.

Tony and I made quick work of the stew prep. He chopped the pepper, onions and garlic and helped me shell the shrimp and scrub the mussels. I put everything together with the crushed tomatoes, wine and seasonings, downsizing Danko’s recipe and changing some ingredients and methods to match my pantry and equipment.

Steam fogged the windows and created a cozy atmosphere as we spooned polenta into big soup bowls and ladled in the seafood and soup. I served it with thick hunks of sourdough bread toasted on Tony’s tabletop grill. Life was good. Then the storm from hell hit.

I hope this cioppino helps you through your own storm this week.

CIOPPINO WITH EASY POLENTA

For the polenta:
3 cups chicken broth
2 tbsp. butter
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup dry white wine
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup yellow corn meal
Butter, grated Parmesan for finishing
Heat chicken broth in a small saucepan (2 quarts). Melt butter in a small skillet and sauté onion and garlic until limp. Add wine, increase heat and boil until wine is reduced by half. Pour wine mixture into saucepan with chicken broth. Whisk in salt and polenta. Cook over medium-high heat, whisking often, until it thickens. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring once or twice, until grains have softened.

Beat in additional butter and Parmesan to taste — about 1 tablespoon butter and 1/4 cup grated Parmesan. Cover and set aside.

For the Cioppino:
1 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 green pepper, cut into 1/2″ dice
3 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp. thyme
1/2 cup dry white or rose wine
1 cup seafood stock
1 16-oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 6-oz. fillet firm white fish such as mahi mahi
12 large shrimp, peeled
1/2 to 1 lb. mussels, scrubbed

Sauté the onion, garlic and green pepper in the olive oil in a soup pot until the onion is translucent. Stir in salt, pepper, pepper flakes and thyme. Add wine and boil for 1 minute. Stir in seafood stock and crushed tomatoes and simmer uncovered for about 20 minutes.

Cut fish fillet in three pieces and gently lower into soup. Cover and simmer 5 minutes for a 1-inch-thick piece of fish. While fish cooks, begin to rewarm polenta over low heat. Add shrimp and mussels to the soup, cover and simmer just until mussels open, 2 to 3 minutes. Shrimp should be barely cooked through. They will finish cooking off the heat.

Beat warmed polenta with a whisk or smooth out with a potato masher. Spoon into large shallow soup bowls. Ladle broth and seafood over polenta. Serve with sourdough bread. Makes 3 servings.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Grilled beef ribs seasoned with chopped garlic; grilled strip steaks, fried beef and poblano peppers in olive oil, baked sweet potatoes; cioppino with shrimp, mussels and mahi-mahi over cheesy polenta.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Grilled chicken and melted Swiss on a toasted bun at Old Dixie Cafe in Hobe Sound, Fla.; Smoked beef brisket, yellow rice and red beans, fried cabbage and onions, coleslaw from JR’s B-B-Q in Indiantown, Fla.; chicken stir fry, custard tart, marinated cucumbers, one bacon-wrapped shrimp, cantaloupe, grapes, and a sugared fried dough puff at King House Buffet in Okeechobee; scrambled eggs, bacon, half a pancake with strawberry jam and coffee at Glady’s in Okeechobee; a fabulous smoke-grilled 1/2 chicken, green beans with bacon and coleslaw at a festival in Moore Haven, Fla.; tortilla chips, green salsa, a pork tamale and a shredded beef burrito (bites of each; blah) at Monita’s Mexican Grill in Okeechobee.

THE MAILBAG
From Dan:
I made your Pork and White Bean Stew last weekend and it is another “Jane Snow Hall of Fame” recipe. It was paired with Southern Living’s Buttermilk Drop Biscuits (with whole grain mustard) for a great comfort food meal on a cold weekend.

To post your recipe on my Pinterest board, I copied and pasted it from the newsletter email into a Publisher document, did a little graphics editing and saved it as a jpeg using the snip it tool. Easy to upload the jpeg to Pinterest.

Thanks for the great recipe!

Dear Dan:
And thank you for the info on posting my recipes to Pinterest. Those who are computer-savvy enough to follow your instructions are encouraged to do so. Spread the word!

From Marge:
I use gmail, and it is possible to highlight, copy and paste into a word document I just tried it again and it works, so no need to go to your blog site.

Dear Marge:
Sorry for the bad info in last week’s newsletter. Thanks to you, I finally figured out how to highlight and paste from gmail on my MacBook. Thanks.

From Sherrie W.:
For many years I have used anasazi beans in various stew recipes because I like the crispy/crunchy character of the beans even after soaking them overnight and cooking them. But I have had a hard time finding them in recent years. This year I ordered them online. However, when I cooked them I was very disappointed because they were mushy.

Do you have any suggestions for a substitute for anasazi beans that have a crunchy texture after cooking?

Dear Sherrie:
I think adzuki beans, which my husband buys in Asian stores, are firmer than most. Any other suggestions?